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Learning to grow a green thumb
McMahan Nursery manager Tiffany Jones, standing, talks about a few of her favorite plants during the fourth class of “Growing at Gardens on Green.” The series started last week at Gardens on Green next to the Hall County School System district office.

Growing up in the country, Kathy Lovett’s family always had a garden. But she did not take an active interest until later in life.

“I didn’t garden when I was young,” she said. “I thought only old people gardened. And now I am one.”

As a retiree, Lovett and her husband Lee, deputy superintendent of the Hall County School System, have made gardening part of their daily lives. The certified master gardeners are the driving force behind Gardens on Green and its subsequent classes, “Growing at Gardens on Green.”

Adult classes in the spring and fall and student classes in the spring, summer and fall recently resumed at Gardens on Green.

“Those are key planting times,” Kathy Lovett said.

Adult classes are at noon every Thursday. Students classes are every Tuesday usually in the mornings and sometimes in the afternoons at Gardens on Green.

During the final Thursdays adult class, a handful of master gardeners from across the county and some school system employees ventured to the Gardens on Green to hear Tiffany Jones from McMahan Nursery talk about her favorite plants.

“We always learn something new,” said Forsyth County resident Deloris Smith, who was seen working in the native plants garden before the noontime class.

She and fellow master gardener Dorothy Krause of Oakwood are regular volunteers at Gardens on Green and its classes. Smith explained she loves working with the native plants and rescuing them.

“We rescue and save plants from being destroyed by construction,” she said. “And we love seeing the plants we rescued (grow here.)”

Krause described gardening as a passion for her and “almost an insanity.”

“I mean look at it,” she said as her eyes swept over the site of the gardens. “It’s relaxing, quiet and serene. Gardening is food for your soul.”

Jones fed her soul and about a dozen others with her garden knowledge. While holding out examples of her favorites, Jones described a laundry lists of its attributes: sun-loving or shade-loving, deer-resistant or not, blooming period and fragrance, and durability.

Many attendees — some eating their lunch — asked questions or took notes during the session. But each walked away with a different experience.

Krause, who took notes during the class, seemed to absorb all of the information for later use.

“Gardening is nothing but a progress in learning,” she said.

Adults are not the only ones learning from the “Growing at Gardens on Green.” Students from the Hall County School System take similar hands-on classes. Kathy Lovett sees their involvement as a youth-incentive program.

“If we can get our kids into something meaningful, whether it be music or sports or gardening, then we’ve done something good,” the former teacher said. “And the main goal is to guiding them into knowing and growing what they eat.”

Hall County School Superintendent Will Schofield is pleased with the incorporation of the outdoor garden class in the school system’s curriculum.

“Every time I look at the window and see the master gardeners teaching boys and girls, I think that’s what education should look like.”

Gardens on Green was established on the Hall County School System district office’s property in 2008 with the sole purpose of educating students and adults about gardening. The idea for such a venture bloomed in Lovett’s mind as she was working with Lee at the school system’s office.

“I looked up at a space not very inviting and I said ‘You know we could make a nice garden out there,’” Lovett said of the memory.

From there, Lovett wrote several grants, collected plants from gardeners and businesses and solicited money from individuals to buy bricks to form a walking path. Then students helped plant all six gardens: butterfly, children’s vegetable garden, conifer, deer-resistant, native and garden of winners.
Krause said Lovett’s vision to create the gardens has paid off.

“It’s an inspiration because I remember when this lot was covered in ivy,” she said. “Now it’s a tourist attraction for downtown Gainesville ... It’s the greenheart of Gainesville.”